From Wadi Rum it was a short drive to the Red Sea port of Aqaba. We'd booked ourselves a couple of nights in a 5 star resort for some relaxation and a rest from sand and bugs. We got the room free with loyalty points, and then were pretty chuffed to be upgraded to a luxury suite, which was larger than our Camden flat with 2 huge TVs, a walk in wardrobe, double shower etc. etc. Heaven! Although after 2 days of lounging by the pool we were missing Brenda and ready to leave.
So, on to Egypt. We had to take a short ferry ride across the Gulf of Aqaba to Egypt as the land route goes through Israel with stamps in the passport which prevent you from entering Sudan. The fast tourist ferry wasn't running as there are few tourists since the revolution so we had to brave it on the midnight trucker ferry. It was a bit of an ordeal. There was an immigration desk on board where everyone had to get their passport stamped and the "queue" was more like a brawl. It only settled down after the immigration officer shot his arm out through the small hole in his screen and managed to grab one guy by the collar and gave him a good shake! After some more angry shouting in Arabic the men suddenly formed a single line which we were told to go to the front of. It's kind of embarrassing, but v convenient that as a westerner you are given VIP treatment all the time.
We'd heard some bad stories about crossing the border into Egypt so were prepared to have to pay a lot of baksheesh, however it was not so bad at all. Its incredibly bureaucratic taking 2 hours to complete all the paper work, but we actually paid about half as much in 'tax' as we'd been told to expect. An Egyptian we met suggested this is because after the revolution everyone wants to make a fresh start and behave honestly, so were charging the correct prices for a change. Its wonderful if that is the case.
We spent a few days chilling out on the Sinai coast at Dahab. Nick's birthday was celebrated with the best of British (a bottle of Glenfiddich and a Cadbury's dairy milk) and a day of sport climbing on a dried-up waterfall cliff.
Next we drove inland to St Katherine at the foot of Mt Sinai. Nick earned our keep at the campsite by coming to the aid of the manager who was complaining about a broken lock. Nick managed to fix the lock with just his pen-knife which seriously impressed the locals. They kept complementing me on my 'husband' the great mechanic!
Whilst there we did a trad climbing route up the NW face of Mt Sinai using some rather vague directions from the internet. It turned into a bit of an epic - each pitch was 50m long, and the second pitch was a near vertical off-width crack which poor Nick had to lead by jamming various body parts into the crack and preying they wouldn't slip as he leveraged himself up it. I did the same pitch in safety as he was belaying me from above, but I was still in tears of fear and frustration. Unfortunately we couldn't find anywhere to abseil off from the second belay anchor so we had to go on up the 3rd pitch which was possibly even harder. Nick had to lead up a 10m vertical half-pipe with no hand holds and no protection, bridging all the way. We finally found an abseil sling which we backed-up with our own gear and abseiled 60m down to another precarious abseil, from where we were able to abseil down to the bottom. I have never been so happy to feel solid ground under my feet and I vowed never to climb again. In retrospect, we were never in much danger, but it didn't feel that way at the time.
The next day we drove across the Sinai peninsula and under the Suez canal to Cairo. As we approached Cairo, an unseasonal downpour began. The traffic had been crazy already, but became even more dangerous as cars swerved to avoid gushing rivers that were forming down the side of the motorway. We passed several over-turned lorries with their contents sprawled over the road. We made it safely to a camp-site on the outskirts of Cairo, which is pretty feral with loads of mozzies, but preferable to having to drive Brenda into the centre.
It's amazing to spend time in Cairo so soon after the revolution. Everyone we meet has a story to tell and many of them spent weeks camped out at Tahrir Square. We visited the square ourselves and saw the burnt down office blocks which used to house the security police. It is really moving to hear about what people have been through and how proud and hopeful they are for a better future. Many of the cars have stickers on the back saying '25th January - I was there' or 'proud to be an Egyptian'.
On the other hand, the complete absence of other tourists is a mixed blessing as it means that we have the attentions of Cairo's con-men and touts entirely to ourselves! Visiting the Giza pyramids was a bit of a downer, with so many horse and camel men hassling us the whole way round.
We took the opportunity in Cairo to apply for Sudan visas which was surprisingly easy. They require a letter of introduction from the British embassy, but amusingly the British embassy charges you £30 for a letter addressed to the Sudan embassy which says "We do not issue letters of introduction as a British passport should be sufficient" - however this letter seems to satisfy the Sudanese who blatantly don't read anything they're given. The visa form requires you to have a Sudanese sponsor with address and signature, but they didn't seem to notice that we had filled in the address of a campsite in Khartoum and our own signatures.
Now we are trying to get a booking on the weekly Lake Nasser ferry into Sudan (the only route) but no luck so far as it is booked up with large numbers of Sudanese fleeing from Libya. To be continued…